THIS Is About Being A Teacher!

THIS builds on my previous blog about a big decision I have made to become a teacher again…

THIS blog is about the type of teacher I was and I want to be again. I am trying to put down the points that I hope will form the basis of a learning experience that a young person would have in and around my classroom. This has been developed through 11 years of working in education and learning about teaching.

In my previous blog I stated “The simple fact is that I really believe that I can offer young people a broad learning experience where the focus is on skills and competence mastery. I will promote high expectations and challenge which will give the learner a desire to want to gain knowledge, to learn and to achieve academic success”. I aim for this to be my starting point.

I have recently become familiar with the book ‘Trivium 21c’ by Martin Robinson. In this book he discusses educational curriculum as either in one camp or another; ‘Traditionalist’ or ‘Progressive’ and learning will take place within these theories. He suggests in summary that educational curriculum should be based around a ‘Progressive Traditionalist’ approach, a mixture of learning styles which include the 3 main aspects of the trivium. Grammar (foundation knowledge and skills), Rhetoric (communicating persuasively and expressing how things could be) and Dialectic (value debate and dialogue as a way of creating new knowledge and challenge). Its a really good read and in my view suggests an approach to learning that could be adopted to suit all types of learner, with challenge and high expectations built in. My own interpretation of this as a teacher is to facilitate the learning of basic knowledge, with the added challenge of achieving mastery of the subject through discussion and communication. For me, this goes beyond the teaching of knowledge to pass a test. Although I think that the book has come up with a brilliant conclusion for education, the one thing that kept coming into my mind continuously was ‘This is just a common sense approach!’. For me I have always adopted this ‘Progressive Traditionalist’ style since becoming a teacher.

THIS is where am I on the traditional v progressive scale. My feeling is that I am on the progressive side of center. A couple of my educational peers have me down as a pure progressive i.e. I have children in my class running around doing whatever they want. That is an interpretation they have made based on some of my comments. It actually could not be further from the truth, ‘yes’ I do have the tendency to lean toward the progressive but I certainly do not see myself in that camp.

THIS is what you will see in my classroom. Learners will never be sat in rows… EVER! My learners will be sat in groups of 4-6 ideally. You will see direction or knowledge being given to learners, but this will always be as minimal as possible. You will see the teacher leading what is being learnt (facilitating if you prefer) and re-forming activities along the way. The challenge for young people will be to learn the knowledge by choosing their own way of acquiring that knowledge given the resources available. That does not mean that learners run around the classroom doing what they want. It could mean that it actually comes back to traditional knowledge based teaching when required. The key point is that the learner is involved in the decision making process and does not feel as though they are ‘done to’ but are more ‘involved in’ the learning process. It also means that they become engaged in a learning experience that has ground rules. Ground rules are important for this type of learning and that has to be trained into young people. Sometimes over a period of time!

THIS is how I aim to achieve the engagement in learning and to harness that deep learning environment. An environment where the mastery of skills and competence create academic learners who will pass exams at an aspirational grade. Not because they know enough facts that can be regurgitated onto an exam paper, but because they know how to learn which will enhance their future prospects in life and in the workplace.

I will base my teaching ethos around these principles:

  1. Robert John Meehan said “Set your classroom expectation high, the higher the better, Expect the most fantastic things to happen, not in the future but right now”. Young people need to be initially trained around high expectations that are needed for learning to take place. From the learning approach, to expected levels of work, to building aspirations of achievement and attainment. It may take a little time but investment in this early on will reap the learning rewards; the expectation is that it will happen quickly. This will be achieved through 2-3 simple learning agreements that can be easily followed. Then to consistently and respectfully enforce these agreements so that there is clarity. In 10 years of teaching I can count on less than both hands the sanctions needed for the learners approach to learning based around what happens in my classroom.
  2. Maya Angelou once said People will forget what you said, forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. The point is that mutual respect has to be developed between the leader of learning (teacher) and the young people. My goal is to find out about them, tailor learning to what interests them and help them to feel good about themselves. Which brings me onto the next point.
  3. Trilling & Fadel, 2009 suggested “Students learn more deeply when they can apply classroom gathered knowledge to (the) real world…”. How many times does a teacher get asked; What is the point of this? When am I going to need this? So make the learning real to them. Show them that there is a point. Once the young people buy into the learning then they will engage more deeply, enquire more, develop a love of learning and ultimately enjoy learning for learning’s sake.
  4. Finally Bruce Lee who was a hero of mine not as a movie star but as a human being, once said “A teacher is never a giver of truth; he is a guide, a pointer to the truth that each student must find for himself”. I believe in this mantra. It is not about standing at the front of the classroom being the ‘giver of truth’ (knowledge). It is about being a ‘pointer to the truth’ (facilitating or leading learning) that allows each learner to find their own way to the answer. Occasionally I will need to give further direction to find the answer. I may also need to provide answers on occasion but that will not be often if I am doing my job right.

Robert John Meehan further said “Your life as a teacher begins the day you realise that you are always a learner”. That is my biggest lesson over the last 11 years working in education. I have realised that I have to keep learning in order to better prepare young people for the 21st century. I have realised that I can learn from anyone and at any time, this includes the young people that I teach. Young people are capable of brilliant things or have knowledge that we, as adults, have no idea about.

THIS is what a teacher (or facilitator/leader of learning) needs to do. I need to be prepared to continue learning and remember that there will NEVER be a point where I am the fountain of knowledge… Learning is a collective thing!



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